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Profession Overview

Public health protects and improves the health of individuals, families, communities, and populations, locally and globally.

Public Health Overview

Public health professionals focus on preventing disease and injury by promoting healthy lifestyles. They implement educational programs, develop policies, administer services, conduct research, and regulate health systems to achieve these goals.

The public health field confronts global health issues, such as improving access to health care, controlling infectious disease, and reducing environmental hazards, violence, substance abuse, and injury. It spans many disciplines and is regularly spotlighted in popular culture and media.

In the past century, public health initiatives have improved lives worldwide, including increasing life expectancy by almost 30 years in the United States. The development and application of population-based prevention programs will continue improving health over the next decades.

There are many different types of public health careers, most requiring at minimum a master's degree from an accredited school of public health.

Source: Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health

Is public health a possible career path for you?

Are you interested in developing and using the following core competencies in your profession? If so, then a career in public health may be a good fit for you!

  • Analytical/assessment skills
  • Policy development/program planning skills
  • Communication skills
  • Cultural competency skills
  • Community dimensions of practice skills
  • Public health sciences skills
  • Financial planning and management skills
  • Leadership and systems thinking skills

Source: Public Health Foundation's Core Competencies


The most common degrees in public health are:

  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Master of Science (MS)
  • Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)
  • Doctor of Science (ScD)

There are over 20 major fields of study. The five core disciplines are:

However, your degree may be in one of several other core public health areas. Examples are:

Source: Explore Health Careers: Public Health

Choosing a Public Health Program

Choose a program carefully based upon factors that are important to your own learning needs. Consider program content, geographic location, faculty, facilities, experiential training opportunities, class size, student demographics, extracurricular opportunities, and cost.

For state-supported public institutions, legal residence may have a significant impact on admissions decisions. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions as compared to state-supported, public institutions.